UO vision materializes: Atlas of Yellowstone

EUGENE, Ore. – (May 7, 2012) – What was first envisioned nine years ago as a class project in the University of Oregon’s Department of Geography was published this spring as a comprehensive, hard-bound reference book filled with colorful maps and data-rich graphics, and covering a broad-spectrum history that reaches back millions of years.

The Atlas of Yellowstone – published by the University of California Press – is the product of collaboration between the UO, the National Park Service, Yellowstone area universities and other federal and private agencies. It documents in images and words everything from the archeology to evidence of climate change at Yellowstone National Park. Its topics range from Yellowstone art to regional economy, and from vegetation to bison movement.

“Pulling together all these materials was a daunting task – which explains why it has never been done before,” said W. Andrew Marcus, a geography professor and associate dean of social sciencesat the UO, and senior editor on the Yellowstone project.

“Making the first atlas of a national park – for the first national park in the world – required gathering data and stories from an army of Yellowstone experts, each of whom had a career of experiences to share,” Marcus said. “It took over 30 cartographers and years of work to condense those rich tales into the 800 maps and graphics that tell the story of Yellowstone and its region.”

In addition to its comprehensive reference maps, the atlas features thematic "page pairs" covering nearly 100 subjects. The page pairs feature sophisticated graphics depicting scientific data on subjects such as development at Old Faithful, potential wildlife habitat and the park area’s wildfire history.

The project was led at the UO by Marcus and James Meacham, a senior research associate and director and co-founder of the university’s InfoGraphics Lab – a GIS and cartographic research facility in the geography department.Alethea Steingisser of the InfoGraphics Lab managed the book’s production and Ann Rodman, Yellowstone’s GIS coordinator, led efforts from the park.

“A cartography class setting was a great environment to explore the idea of the new park atlas,” Meacham said. “Students loved working with the Yellowstone topics. The Atlas of Yellowstone idea resonated with so many people in Yellowstone, that we were able to secure seed funding and bring area experts on board. The atlas was launched and it took on life of its own.”

The UO’s advanced cartography course develops mapping products around a central theme each year, and Marcus and Meacham decided in January 2003 that the following year’s class assignment should be a series of thematic maps for Yellowstone’s Northern Range.

“While discussing the upcoming class in a social setting and emboldened by several microbrews, we decided that as long as we were doing a class on the topic, we might as well create an Atlas of Yellowstone,” the pair wrote in the book’s afterword. “This naïve decision led us on a much more involved and lengthy journey than we ever imagined.”

They estimated that more than 100 experts contributed to the volume, and dozens of cartographers – including many students – worked on the project. It also required several trips to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The atlas encompasses both parks.

The book is compiled in a format similar to the award-winning Atlas of Oregon, which also uses page pairs and was published in 2001 under the direction of UO geography professor and cartographer Bill Loy, who died in 2003.

The UO’s collaborators on the Yellowstone atlas included Yellowstone National Park, the University of Wyoming, Montana State University, the Museum of the Rockies, the Montana Institute on EcoSystems at MSU and the Draper Museum of Natural History at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo.

With about 200 research permits authorized each year in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks area, the new atlas was able to tap scientific data from multiple sources and present it with graphical sophistication.

While the atlas focuses on Yellowstone National Park, its maps and graphics cover the entire region – including Grand Teton National Park – and emphasize variations across space, connections between places and human interactions with the natural environment.

All experts on its various topics volunteered their time on the atlas.

Richard Marston, head of the geography department at Kansas State University and former president of the Association of American Geographers, called the book “an extremely attractive, first-rate volume that is sure to become a fundamental resource for scholars and anyone who loves Yellowstone.”

Funding partners for the project included the UO, Montana State University, University of Wyoming, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and Canon U.S.A.

About the University of Oregon

The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.

MEDIA CONTACT:Joe Mosley, UO media relations, 541-346-3606, jmosley@uoregon.edu

SOURCE:Andrew Marcus, geography professor and associate dean of social sciences, 541-346-5709, marcus@uoregon.edu

Note: The University of Oregon is equipped with an on-campus television studio with satellite uplink capacity, and a radio studio with an ISDN phone line for broadcast-quality radio interviews.